That's what Ben and I talk about this week in the Scripps column. My take:
Religious liberty is a paramount American value; it's even written into our Constitution. A woman's right to make her own health choices doesn't explicitly appear in the document, it's merely a common-sense human right no less deserving of protection and consideration.Ben says: "The argument isn't about a woman's 'access' to contraception. ... No, this is all about who pays and why it matters." But we've decided—in a law that was modeled on legislation that Republicans originally crafted, and which was passed into law by a Republican governor now running for president—that for the most part, employers will pay for employee health insurance. If that's the route we're taking, then it really does become a denial of access if the person with the wallet gets to decide you don't get birth control. Conservatives don't want the government making your health decisions—remember death panels? It's beyond me why they'd grant that power to private employers instead.
So the Obama administration is right to mandate that employers include contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance programs. And the administration is also right -- if a little late -- to offer an accommodation that ensures access to birth control while permitting religious institutions to adhere to their own teachings.
If only that were the end of the debate.
Unwilling, it seems, to ever take "yes" for an answer from President Barack Obama, Republicans are now pressing ahead with proposals to exempt any employer from having to pay for contraceptive coverage. GOP leaders say this is about "religious freedom" -- but, as other commentators have noted, they're not pushing to exempt, say, employers who are Jehovah's Witnesses from having to pay for blood transfusions.
It's easy to conclude, then, that Republicans are mostly interested in hindering women's access to birth control.
"Obamacare" is one of the administration's great achievements. But as recent developments have shown, it is imperfect and leaves most Americans at the mercy of their employers when it comes to health coverage.
That's not the system that most liberals desired. We wanted to see either a fully government-run "single-payer" health insurance system -- or, failing that, a "public option" government insurance plan to stand alongside private insurance, both to drive down costs and to give individuals a wider range of health choices.
Such a system would've allowed American women to choose (or not to choose) birth control with little hindrance. A woman's health decisions should be between her and her doctor, not her and her church, nor her and her employer. That important concept -- and not religious liberty -- is what faces the greatest threat today.